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Books are Better Banned than Bowdlerized

You Can’t Have Beauty Without Truth

Roald Dahl was my first favorite writer; his stories were the first I consciously attributed to a real person doing a job. What hooked me was the sense that he didn’t kid-proof his books. His delightful fantasies of eccentric candy makers, talking worms, and telekinetic schoolgirls had something pleasingly hard-nosed about them. A giant airborne peach can take you away on a wonderful adventure, but it’s still a world in which escaped rhinoceri make children orphans and your aunts treat you like a prisoner.

The recent decision to temper Dahl’s infamous “nastiness” in new editions of his books will probably have no practical effect beyond goosing sales of the forthcoming reissues of “classic Dahl,” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain. The changes may be minor, but they are clumsy. They’re ugly. As is the thought of the humorless “consultants” at Inclusive Minds tweaking Dahl’s expertly-crafted sentences to pave the way for trouble-free streaming adaptations.

Ban books if you must; in all contemporary cases of which I’m aware this simply means not making a work readily available for certain specific readerships. If anything, this only makes the book more enticing, for better or worse. And it doesn’t require lying. But to “improve” a book in accordance with fleeting standards of propriety is to add a little more fakeness to the world, while removing a little beauty. These days we don’t have any beauty to spare.


The reduction of femininity and masculinity to a few physical characteristics that can be adapted or discarded at will is also an attack on beauty. So is the refusal to age gracefully, especially when grotesquely abetted by plastic surgery. Some practitioners, however, merely aim to restore beauty rather than enhance it. During a career caring for ablative laser burns, plastic surgery nurse Suzi Provenché discovered the healing power of emu oil. This led her to create her cruelty-free, USA-made skincare line, Joëlle Martine (named after her firstborn child). Align readers can get 20% off of JM’s beloved Moisturizing Day Serum when purchased with your cleanser of choice with the code ALIGNJM22 at checkout.


Technology is at its ugliest when it proceeds without a proper understanding of human flourishing. What would tech in the service of truth and beauty look like? Entrepreneurs Josh Gray and Trae Stephens provide one answer with their outdoor sports start-up Pursuit Outside, where members can sign up for activities ranging from free diving to fly-fishing to foraging and more. Gray and Stephens recently sat down with Return to discuss their hopeful vision and what inspires it. Read the interview here.


The problem with railing against the pervasive ugliness of modern life is that you can quickly become as unpleasantly shrill as your opponents. In a 2018 interview I recently came across, the late and dearly-missed Norm MacDonald provides a masterclass in how to gaze into the abyss without letting the abyss gaze into you. In a relaxed, subdued discussion with a Canadian TV presenter (who happens to be his sister-in-law). MacDonald calmly explains why most attempts to send up Donald Trump fail so miserably. “If you do an impression of someone, you have to like that person,” he says. A basic truth, simply presented, that offers something our frenzied discourse sorely lacks: wisdom.


Mark Landis did nothing wrong. This is undeniably true from a legal perspective: it is not a crime to forge paintings by famous artists and then “donate” them to museums while posing as a wealthy benefactor. The many high-profile art experts Landis fooled may condemn him all the same. What they can’t deny, however, is that Landis is the rare “art world” denizen motivated primarily by a love of art. Landis long ago discovered that absorption in great paintings and drawings allowed him to escape himself and the mental illness afflicting him since childhood. The peculiar fraud he perpetrated allowed him the joy of creation unsullied by any public recognition. A more savvy operator could’ve spun the whole thing into one of those tiresome performance pieces about “late-stage capitalism,” but Landis just wanted people to enjoy what he made. There’s something beautiful about that.